Knesset to go green

The government plans to overhaul the legislative building into a sustainable structure to save both energy and money.

Depitction of future solar panels on new 'green' Knesset. (photo credit: Courtesy of Knesset)
Depitction of future solar panels on new 'green' Knesset.
(photo credit: Courtesy of Knesset)
On a twilit Wednesday evening, atop a first-floor Knesset wing, legislators and environmental professionals gathered together to pull the drapes off of a pristine solar panel.
The brand new panel will soon be one of many to adorn the Knesset roof, which is slated to be covered with 4,650 square meters worth of photovoltaic cells – as part of a plan to overhaul the legislative building into a sustainable structure.
The “Green Knesset” project is the brainchild of MK Yuli Edelstein, Knesset speaker, and Ronen Plott, Knesset director- general, who aim, over several years, to convert the Knesset into a house of parliament that runs on energy-saving – and therefore money-saving – principles.
Taking part in the transformation will be members of Knesset, all Knesset employees, the Knesset’s Green Forum as well as environmental organizations and the general public.
The Knesset will implement the first stage of the project over 2014 and 2015, investing about NIS 7 million in 13 projects focusing on energy and water.
One of the key components of this stage will be the installation of the solar field, said Dr.
Samuel Chayen, spokesman for the Internal Affairs and Environment Committee and a key figure in planning the project.
This will be the largest such parliamentary roof in the world, with Germany’s Bundestag being the next biggest at 3,600 square meters, he said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon, prior to the launch ceremony.
“This will be the greenest parliament in the world,” Chayen said.
The solar field, which will have a capacity of 300 kilowatts, and will be capable of generating 510,000 kilowatt- hours of electricity, will provide energy savings of about NIS 200,000, Chayen and his colleagues estimated.
In addition to constructing the solar field, the Knesset will, in the first stage, also be replacing hundreds of bulbs with LED lights.
Fluorescent bulbs of the T5 type will be replaced by T8 fluorescent lights, throughout the building, with an annual savings of NIS 35,000; and T8 fluorescent lights in the parking lot will be replaced by LED bulbs, generating NIS 65,000 in annual savings, Chayen said.
Meanwhile, computers, air conditioners and lights will be coordinated to automatically shut down at the end of the work day.
Shutting down 1,200 computers will bring about NIS 120,000 in annual savings, while turning off the lights and air conditioners will bring NIS 220,000 in savings.
As far as air conditioning and heating goes, an “energy center” will replace the current systems.
Workers will be examining the possibility of employing external, cold Jerusalem air for air conditioning, as well as installing air conditioners whose flow rate varies according to heat load, which could together save NIS 10,000 annually, Chayen said.
Changing the control software to create a better relationship between the ambient temperature and the required temperature in the air conditioning system would provide an annual refund of NIS 35,000, while replacing 50 old air conditioners with energy efficient models would save NIS 40,000 each year.
Using the heat emissions generated by the air conditioner operations, instead of gas, could save the Knesset NIS 560,000 as well as 50 percent of its gas consumption, Chayen and his colleagues said.
Also integral to the first stage of the Green Knesset overhaul will be a mechanism for measuring water used for irrigation, the adoption of a more economical water consumption model and the desalination of water from the building’s air conditioning systems – for use in irrigation and other purposes.
Construction of new irrigation areas for landscaping could save 20 percent of the current 20,000 cubic meters of water consumed for this purpose annually, leading to NIS 300,000 in savings, they said.
Using the 4,000 cubic meters of air conditioner condensation emitted annually for irrigation would save approximately NIS 60,000.
After examining the financial viability of the first stage of greening the Knesset, officials working on the project calculated that the plans will return on the investment within approximately five years, generating about NIS 1.5m. in savings annually, Chayen said.
The money accumulated from these savings will be transferred to a Green fund designated for continuing the Green Knesset program into its future stages.
Naor Yerushalmi, head of Life and Environment, said that in his opinion, the launch of this plan “symbolizes a breakthrough” in environmental activity for the legislation.
When asked by The Jerusalem Post if the environmental overhaul came too little, too late, Yerushalmi said “we don’t want to talk about the past – we want to talk about the future.”
“It’s a symbolic event, it’s a historic event,” he said. “The Knesset is a highlight of democracy and of civil life, and when the Knesset is going green, the country is going green.”
Both Environmental Protection Minister Amir Peretz and Energy, Water and National Infrastructures Minister Silvan Shalom gave the project their blessings at the Wednesday press conference.
“Finally, the Knesset presents a ‘green line’ that is a consensus and proves again that the environment is a subject without borders and parties,” Peretz said.
Echoing Peretz’s words, Shalom stressed the importance of continued cooperation between their respective ministries. “We are a ministry that is considered on the other side but we want to work together,” Shalom said.
Also in the spirit of cooperation, MKs Dov Henin (Hadash) and Zvulun Kalfa (Bayit Yehudi) – two politicians with very different creeds – will lead the transformation to an environmentally conscientiousness Knesset among the legislators themselves.
“I’m willing to cooperate with everyone in the Knesset on every subject – where we can meet on common ground, we should step forward, take one step forward with anyone,” Henin told the Post, “and I do not put any condition that he will go along with me the whole way. For me, one step forward is enough.”
To Kalfa, joining hands with Henin in leading the greening effort among the MKs “is not a novelty.”
“I live in an environment in which many leftists are among my best friends,” Kalfa told the Post. “We look for many roots in the components of environmental protection – real environmental protection begins in Jewish roots. When the first person in the world was created, the first order he received was when God told him, ‘I made for you an entire world – be careful not to ruin it because there is no one who will fix it after you.’”